One era ends for Dayton Flyers; another begins

Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall talk after a NCAA tournament game on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianpolis. David Jablonski/Staff

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Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall talk after a NCAA tournament game on Friday, March 17, 2017, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianpolis. David Jablonski/Staff

UD turns the page to next season without four senior starters

Expectations soared for the Dayton Flyers four years in a row. Now they will come back to earth — for almost everyone, that is, except the players who will take the court for the 2017-18 season.

“Great things are coming,” freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo wrote Friday on Twitter.

“Facts!” wrote Dayton’s other freshman, Trey Landers, in response. “Can’t wait to take the floor with you bro. We been waiting for this.”

“Anytime you have a loss like this you’re kind of down,” sophomore Ryan Mikesell said, “but we have a lot of key guys returning. We’ve got Kostas coming in. We’ve got a big freshman class. I think the future’s bright.”

An era ended Friday when the No. 7 seed Flyers lost 64-58 to No. 10 Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Coach Archie Miller threw his arm around senior Kendall Pollard as the team left the court. Later, as Miller headed to a postgame press conference with Pollard and senior Scoochie Smith, the seniors got a big hug from Morgan Miller, Archie’s wife, who was standing outside the locker room.

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Hugs and tears punctuate the end of every season for 67 of the 68 teams in the big dance. There were more than usual this time for Dayton.

The season peaked March 1 with a victory against Virginia Commonwealth on Senior Night. It crashed in the last three games. Dayton finished 24-8 and became the first UD team to lose its last three games since the 1994-95 Flyers lost their last 10.

Now the reality of a future without Pollard, Smith, Kyle Davis and Charles Cooke stares UD in the face. Those players combined to average 51.7 points per game, 68.1 percent of the team’s total.

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Any team that loses that kind of production will have a lot of question marks the next season. That will be true for Dayton, which returns one starter: sophomore forward Xeyrius Williams (8.2 points per game).

Five others who saw action against Wichita State return: junior guard Darrell Davis (5.5 points per game); redshirt sophomore Josh Cunningham (6.3); sophomore forward Ryan Mikesell (5.7); sophomore point guard John Crosby (2.8); and sophomore forward Sam Miller (4.5).

The sophomore class is a tight-knit group that nicknamed itself the 2K19 Gang. That doesn’t guarantee the four will finish their careers together. Dayton has not had a player transfer in the last two seasons, but it’s an offseason question for every team these days.

At the moment, Dayton doesn’t have a scholarship open for next season. It’s bringing in five freshmen, four of whom have signed: 6-0 point guard McKinley Wright; 6-4 guard Jordan Davis; 7-0 center Jordan Pierce; and 6-6 forward Nahziah Carter. Another freshman, 6-7 forward Matej Svoboda, of the Czech Republic, is expected to sign during the spring signing period in April.

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Then there’s Antetokoumpo, the 6-foot-10 forward who will be the most talked about UD newcomer in years. He didn’t attend the game in Indianapolis. NCAA rules prohibit partial qualifiers from traveling with the team. He started practicing with the Flyers at the start of the second semester.

“One thing is Kostas has done a great job in the weight room since the break when he got fully incorporated into our team,” assistant coach Tom Ostrom said. “He’s gained close to 15 pounds of muscle. He’s lifting in a different program than anyone else on the team since he’s not playing. He’s lifting five days a week. He’s done a really good job getting bigger and stronger in practice.”

It took Antetokounmpo a little bit of time to get used to the pace of practice, Ostrom said, but he’s adapted well.

“He’s really picked up the offense,” Ostrom said. “He has great instincts on defense. He can really move his feet. He has a knack for blocking shots. Guys will go up for layups and have their man beat, and Kostas will come out of the blue from the weak side to block the shot into the wall. All the coaches look at each other: ‘Where did he come from?’ He’s working really hard on his jump shot. He’s got to get his base strong, his legs stronger for the physicality of the game.”

Antetokounmpo is the brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks star who started in the NBA All-Star Game in February. Kostas attended the game with his other two brothers, Thanasis and Alex. All the brothers were born in Greece and moved to Milwaukee after Giannis was drafted by the Bucks.

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Kostas and Giannis look identical on the floor, Crosby said. Kostas wants to write his own legacy at Dayton, Landers said, even though comparisons to his brother are inevitable.

“Obviously, his brother is in the league and he has a lot of popularity because of his brother, but he wants popularity of his own,” Landers said. “I just think next year when he’s able to unleash what he’s got built in right now, it’s going to be crazy.”

Landers saw limited action in his first season. He played in nine games and played 52 minutes.

“I really don’t let it affect me much,” he said Thursday. “I don’t think about it. I just like being with the guys and winning games. Just to be here with the guys is a blessing. I don’t really get caught up in the playing time thing.”

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